LOS ANGELES — James Harden lay on his back under the basket, before rising and walking slightly gingerly to the 76ers’ bench on the opposite side of the court and then to their locker room.

Crisis was averted when the point guard who had been kneed in the quadriceps returned to the bench and, eventually, the court about midway through the fourth quarter. But the scene, and the scare, represented the way the Sixers needed to labor their way to a 126-121 win over the depleted Lakers playing without superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis on Wednesday night at Crypto.com Arena.

“We won the game. I’ll just leave it at that,” coach Doc Rivers said. “We played and won the game. It wasn’t a masterpiece at all.”

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The Sixers overcame a clunky offensive start to build a 14-point third-quarter lead, before allowing the Lakers to trim the advantage to 93-91 entering the final period when a shot by Wenyen Gabriel rolled in right before the buzzer. A Tyrese Maxey three-pointer pushed the Sixers’ lead back up to 98-93, an alley-oop connection from Tobias Harris to DeAndre Jordan extended that advantage to 103-97, and a long jumper by Furkan Korkmaz made the score 107-100 with less than eight minutes to play.

Then after an Austin Reeves putback sliced the Sixers’ lead to 107-104 with less than six minutes remaining, Harris answered with a layup and Maxey added a driving finish and three-pointer to push the lead back to nine points with less than four minutes to play.

Sixers MVP contender Joel Embiid finished with 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting and 10 rebounds, while Maxey added 21 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds and Harris had 20 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Former Sixer Dwight Howard led the Lakers with 24 points and added 8 rebounds, while Russell Westbrook had 24 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists.

Harden’s rocky night

Even before the injury scare, it was not the most pleasant on-court return to Harden’s hometown.

He had entered Wednesday shooting 35% on 14.4 field-goal attempts and 26.7% on 6.4 three-point attempts per game over his previous seven games. His struggles continued with a 2-of-10 start from the floor Wednesday, before making 5 of his 8 attempts after halftime to finish with 24 points to go with 7 rebounds and 7 assists.

Harden said he felt like his burst was faster in the second half, and that he “made sure I put emphasis on getting to my spots.” But he went just 1-of-6 from three-point range, including an air ball the possession after hitting his first shot from beyond the arc in the third quarter.

When asked if he likes the shots he’s been getting, he responded with an emphatic, “Yeah, for sure.”

“Confidence is still gonna be there,” Harden said. “You just got to keep working through it. And you got to get back to the basics, the fundamentals, staying with the shot and doing all those things until they start going in again your swag starts getting back up. The work don’t ever stop.”

Harden added his quad felt “a little sore” after the game but that the injury “wasn’t nothing too serious.”

“It was painful when it happened,” Harden said. “ ... Hopefully tomorrow I’ll just do some recovery and be ready to go for Friday.”

Bench burst

A bench unit that has been much-maligned recently was solid again Wednesday, finishing with 27 points including 20 in the first half. The reserves helped flip a 7-point second-quarter deficit into a 9-point advantage.

Georges Niang went 3-of-3 from beyond the arc in the first quarter to counter the Lakers’ early three-point barrage. Korkmaz and Jordan were both a perfect 2-of-2 from the floor in their second-quarter minutes. Jordan then scored five points and grabbed four rebounds in four fourth-quarter minutes before Embiid reentered, while Korkmaz delivered the a big shot to increase the Sixers’ lead to 7 points.

In all, Rivers deployed a 10-man rotation and experimented with at least one new lineup combination. He paired Maxey and Harris together to start the second and fourth quarters with Korkmaz, Jordan, and Shake Milton. Since the Harden trade, Rivers had primarily played Harris with Harden and Maxey with Embiid when the starters have staggered minutes.

“We like [Harris and Maxey] together, and I like Shake and Furk together,” Rivers said. “So tonight we actually tried it. … because they have great chemistry. They’ve been together for a year and a half, and while we’re trying to find their rhythm, that might be the group right now.”

LeBron’s tribute

Though James rested Wednesday, the Lakers showed a tribute video to honor him passing Karl Malone to become the NBA’s second all-time leading scorer.

As James waved to the crowd, Sixers wing Danny Green applauded his former teammate. Green was on the Lakers’ 2020 championship team before coming to the Sixers.